Western society has always held women to unbelievable standards, portraying them with supermodel qualities such as a flat stomach, perfect hair, piercing eyes, radiant skin, and, of course, large breasts. In addition, our society also has the mindset that women are weak and vulnerable, incapable of protecting themselves against harm. As a result, women who are the victims of rape and sexual assault have been told to think about what they could have done differently: how they could have acted differently, how they could have dressed differently, among other insensitive suggestions. This is truly a disgraceful mentality in our society and as such, has been studied, reported, and publicized in order to bring a change to our society. However, sexual harassment and rape data is largely gender biased and there is an underlying issue that goes underreported, unmentioned, and relatively unnoticed. Although the atrocities of rape and sexual harassment of women have been illuminated, little has been reported on the physical and psychological trauma suffered by men who have been the recipients of sexual harassment and rape.
Our society not only holds idealistic standards for women, but for men as well. According to the blog Sex Sells, they state, “Oftentimes men are shown to be very masculine, macho, and have no emotions” in regards to the portrayal of men in advertising. Men are continually pounded with this ideal image through commercials, magazines, and worst of all in movies, depicting men with six-pack abs, enlarged chest and arm muscles, and not a single sign of emotion on their face. Men in commercials are shown “without shirts on and [they] use this as a method to show that this is a ‘real’ man because he is muscular and content with his manhood enough to go half-naked” (Sex Sells, 2011). Just like women, men can and do experience emotional responses to these sexual objectifications such as “homophobia, [and] gender stereotyping,” as well as issues with “self esteem and self image” (Sex Sells, 2011). Finally, men are seen as sex crazed deviants whose only goal is to “have sex with as many women as possible,” as though man can only prove his worth by how much sex he has (Sex Sells, 2011). All of these stigmas of society, though unspoken, do in fact exist and are the root to the devastating psychological effects experienced by men who have been sexually harassed and even raped.
Due to the idea that all men must want to have sex, sexual harassment and rape of men tends to go underreported or viewed as a joke. One article by Mrs. Eve Tahmincioglu investigated the issue of male sexual harassment and began her article by stating, “Few seem to take this issue seriously.” She even stated that when female employees were confronted with claims of sexual misconduct in the workplace by their male counterparts, they responded with a “You’ve got to be kidding me,’ kind of attitude. And they kept doing it.” (Tahmincioglu, 2007). However, as more women find themselves in positions of power, the number of sexual harassment claims by men has and will continue to increase (Tahmincioglu, 2007). Sexual harassment claims by men have doubled in the last 15 years (Tahmincioglu, 2007) and sexual harassment claims by men makes up 16.3 %, which has increased from 11% in 1997 (Schwyzer, 2012). Rape and sexual harassment are not gender biased; they are fueled by a desire for power and control, which does not discriminate based on sex.
Oftentimes we continue to perpetuate the joke of male victims of rape and sexual harassment through comments and reactions to news stories. One YouTube video in particular by the user, VenerableB, discusses the issues surrounding this topic by recounting his own story of sexual harassment and rape by his 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Tupper. In the video he is shown laughing off his encounter, masking his pain and emotions with jokes and humor. He never truly talks about his experience to his friends because they view him as popular for having sex with a hot teacher. He even states that he is unable to talk about his situation to his first caseworker, because she was a woman who did not understand the position he was in (VenerableB, 2014). His psychological trauma fades into a background filled with the laughter of others, as he silently bears the burden of his fear. He concluded the video with a very powerful message, “I find rape hilarious, because I have to,” as he is on the verge of tears (VenerableB, 2014). Comments in response to news articles with situations similar to VenerableB’s experience continue to perpetuate this societal portrayal of male sexual harassment as a laughable subject. Stories about NFL cheerleaders, female teachers, or neighbors and the “lucky” male victims are seen as unappreciative or even made fun of for having had sex with an attractive woman and not enjoying it. Many people state that if they were in the boy’s position, they would’ve been happy that an attractive woman was willing to have sex with them.
Unfortunately, the societal expectations of men and the idea that men can’t be victims of rape or sexual harassment or would enjoy such an experience, lead to the distressing psychological aftereffects of male victims. What makes this even worse is that men oftentimes find themselves in a situation where they don’t know who to turn to for help (Tahmincioglu, 2007). One study by Morris et. al. 2014, found that compared to women, male victims have increased rates of psychiatric symptoms, psychiatric hospitalizations, and distress. In the article, the authors link this psychological shock to societal expectations and, as a result, they believe that this also leads to under reported cases of rape and sexual harassment. Men tend to feel emotions including “shame, shock, and humiliation related to their belief that rape can only happen to women” (Morris et. al. 2014). Another study by Settles et. al. 2014, looked at gender differences between men and women in regards to “frightening appraisals and psychological distress, more role limitations, and less work satisfaction.” Men were found to have more psychological distress as a result of sexual assault and that frightening encounters represent a strong violation of their expectations (Settles et. al. 2014), which is in accordance with the results found by Morris et. al. 2014. In addition, Settles et. al. 2014 found that men believe that their masculinity has been challenged or that they are struggling with their sexual identity. The results of these studies help to demonstrate the detrimental repercussions of our societal expectations of the perfect man and the psychological distress that men experience when they are raped due to these societal beliefs.
In a military setting, the aforementioned results tend to become amplified, with nearly doubled the amount of sexual harassment and rape cases by men in the military. Although there are no clear results or correlations as to why sexual harassment and rape occurs at a higher rate in the military, one possible reason could be due to the close quarters and greater sense of camaraderie, further reinforcing the desire to withhold sexual assault encounters. According to Morris et. al. 2014, of the military men who experienced unwanted sexual encounters, 85% of them did not make a report or file a complaint. Military men tend to severely under report their encounter due to their military surroundings, with emotions such as fear, shame, and humiliation inhibiting their desire to report their sexual assault (Morris et. al. 2014). Military men also fear punishment by their assailants, the consequences for their jobs, or how they will be perceived by their superiors and comrades (Morris et. al. 2014). Settles et. al. 2014 found that for both sexes, encounters of sexual harassment had stronger fear responses when the perpetrator was of a higher rank than the victim and if the rapist was a man than a woman. These results reinforce the fear of military personnel to report their case or talk about their experience with other friends.
Some may argue that men who were the victims of sexual harassment and rape deserved what happened because they should have been strong enough to defend themselves. Others may argue that the victim could have behaved or acted differently in the situation, which would have resulted in them not being sexually harassed or raped. However, similar claims have been made for female victims of rape and sexual harassment, which leads me to reiterate an aforementioned point: rape is all about power. A 13 year old boy could not defend himself against a trusted female figure anymore than a 13 year old girl would be able to fend off a trusted male figure. Rape is all about the ability to control the situation, control the person, and stimulate the recipient to the point of orgasm simply because they can, and there’s nothing the recipient can do to stop them. Until claims such as these are voided from society, we will continue to perpetuate a culture where blame is placed more on the victim, than the sexual predator.
On a final note, the perspective of a male victim of sexual harassment was discussed in the novel, Disclosure, by Michael Crichton published in 2004. The book was later adapted into a movie, which focused on a manager at an up and coming technological company who had been overlooked for a promotion in favor of his ex girlfriend. Later, his ex-girlfriend forces herself on him even though he is happily married, and after he refuses her advances, she makes it her mission to have him fired. She claims that he sexually harassed her, while he also claims she sexually harassed him. According to Crighton, the book is based on actual events and it brings to light, the gender discrimination against men in regards to sexual harassment cases. The male protagonist fights an uphill battle, not only dealing with discrimination from his own company, but also the blowback to his reputation when his story is published in a news article. The novel eloquently describes the unknown fears and limitations that men face in society and shows the reader what it’s like to be a man who was sexually harassed and the psychological distress they experience.
Throughout time, our society has created man in the image of an emotionless and masculine warrior, one that will continue fighting, even after receiving a wound in battle. In order to avoid showing weakness, he is silent about his pain, shrugging it off and continuing the fight. Eventually however, the pain becomes too great, and he will succumb to it. This trait becomes detrimental to a man who is the victim of sexual harassment and rape. “Some men…will deal with the harassment head on and then shrug it off; while others get all tied up in knots and feel stuck” (Tahmincioglu, 2007). In order support these men, we need to show them that we are here for them as a society. Several help centers and churches provide shelters for women who have been sexually or physically abused. Conversely, there are very few, if any, organizations designed to help male victims. The current paradigm of gender bias towards rape and sexual harassment against men and women in our society needs to change in order to provide proper help and recovery services to all victims of sexual harassment, both men and women. Until this becomes a reality, those men who have been sexually violated will continue to bear the burden of silence, the silence of a wounded warrior.
Morris, E. E., Smith, J. C., Farooqui, S. Y., Suris, A. M. 2014. Unseen Battles: The Recognition, Assessment, and Treatment Issues of Men With Military Sexual Trauma. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse. Vol 15 (2): 94 – 101.
Schwyzer, Hugo. Women Can and Do Sexually Harass Men. Role Reboot: Culture + Politics. August 17, 2012. Online Article. Accessed 11/3/14. <http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-08-women-can-and-do-sexually-harass-men>
Sex Sells: Dolce and Gabbana. Blogger. December 5, 2011. Online Blog. Accessed 11/9/14. < http://eemcdona-commcakes.blogspot.com/>
Settles, I. H., Buchanon, N. T., Yap, S. C. Y., Harrel, Z. A. T. 2014. Sex Differences in Outcomes and Harasser Characteristics Associated with Frightening Sexual Harassment Appraisal. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Vol 19 (2):133-142
Tahmincioglu, Eve. Male Sexual Harassment is not a joke. NBC News. July 10, 2007. Online Article. Accessed 11/3/14. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/19536167/ns/business-careers/t/male-sexual-harassment-not-joke/#.VFg_6PTF_8E>
VenerableB. Why Rape is Sincerely Hilarious. YouTube, LLC, March 26, 2014. Web. Accessed November 9, 2014. < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikd0ZYQoDko>